[Press release] UMass Medical School, WPI developing smartphone app to address stress eating
Last week I started using the USDA nutrition/exercise SuperTracker after a hiatus of three years.
Agree – stress is indeed a reason for overeating, this app would most likely help me.
From the 2 February 2015 University of Massachusetts press releaseBy Megan Bard, UMass Medical School Communications,and Michael Cohen, WPI Communications
Researchers at UMass Medical School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute are developing a stress-eating smartphone app that will help users better understand why they overeat, with the support of a $2 million award from the National Institutes of Health.
Sherry Pagoto, PhD Bengisu Tulu, PhD
Development of the “RELAX” application and a pilot clinical study to evaluate its effectiveness will be led by Sherry Pagoto, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UMMS, and Bengisu Tulu, PhD, associate professor in the WPI Foisie School of Business, joint principal investigators on the grant.
“Most commercial apps available today focus on tracking diet and exercise, but do not help the user understand why they are eating so much and/or exercising so little,” Dr. Pagoto said. “Our clinical and research experience suggests that stress is a very common trigger for overeating and it is a barrier to exercise.”
RELAX will have two components: a mobile application that will enable patients to track their daily activities using a smartphone and a web-based tool clinicians can use to access patient information to help inform treatment.
“We want to use technology to help patients in real time, during their daily activities, and also to enhance the effectiveness of the time they spend face-to-face with their physician or counselor,” Dr. Tulu said.
Using text inputs, barcode scanning and GPS technology, the RELAX patient app will track eating patterns, daily activities, exercise, patient-mood and stress inducing events. The app will provide the patient with an itemized list of foods consumed, indicate the times of day identified as high-stress moments and illustrate the relationship between food intake and stress. The information collected will help the user to better understand his or her habits when it comes to emotional or stress eating.
For example, the patient-facing application will provide coaching for dietary choices or guided stress-reduction exercises to lessen the likelihood of overeating.
“Imagine a person driving into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant, at a certain time of day, and getting prompted with a message asking them to think about what they are feeling and whether or not it is the right time to eat,” Tulu said.
Clinicians will be able to access their patients’ information collected through the RELAX patient app using the web-based application. The web tool will present information as easily digestible visual displays and feedback reports for the clinician to review.
Much of the time during traditional weight-loss counseling sessions is spent reviewing paper self-monitoring records and soliciting information from the patient about factors impacting their adherence, such as stress and stress eating. By using the RELAX web tool, clinicians can more quickly get to the heart of causal factors behind the patient’s eating habits, which can be difficult to identify using traditional counseling. The research team believes RELAX will help patients achieve better outcomes with fewer visits to their doctor or counselor.
The researchers hope the interactive design and the clinician’s ability to engage with the patient in a more data-rich way, both unique features of the RELAX application, will enable a more comprehensive approach to counseling patients about weight and stress management.
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